long . lines and ripples

Presidential Success and Entertainment

Now that there is hope that Trump will go away, here is a meaningful comparison between Trump and Biden that I would like to see explored. Not only are Trump (b. 1946) and Biden (b. 1942) similar in age, but they both entered public life fairly young, being formed in their public persona by a late 1970s, early 1980s American media culture.

In Biden’s case, he began his career in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, when the political establishment was chastened to at least perform good political behavior in public for a while. A made-for-TV animal like Trump might have benefited from this loss of trust in politics and political institutions. The public, having lost the belief that politics was about something other than lies and power, turned to a know-nothing entertainmer like Trump for laughs and the thrill of envy. And with the success of literal TV-star presidents like Ronald Reagan, politics itself took on the requirements of TV entertainment. Biden appears to have learned these lessons by the time of the 1977 Robert Bork confirmation, which he led, theatrically.

Politics (politicians) and the principles of the entertainment industry have only become more essential to one another since then.

One of Biden’s most intriguing late-in-life qualities is that he cuts such a lackluster figure on TV. The man is not particularly eloquent, or memorable in his words, and can’t really thrive against a standard where every gaffe is recorded and replayed endlessly online. But he appears to have survived under those conditions well enough to win. For now, enough of the American public has tired of the political entertainer.

So the question I would like to see explored is this: where does the entertainment-political complex go from here? Will Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency have an effect similar to Watergate, and lead to an emphasis on staid, demonstratively plain political leadership for the foreseeable future? Should it? Have all the actual politicians who were beaten by Donald Trump, the entertainer, learned anything from Trump or Biden about the dangers of accepting entertainers as political participants? Will anyone in power talk about why it is dangerous to valorize someone who plays well on TV?

And where do we go from here? Can we even step back from political entertainment, now that social media has overtaken television as the medium for politics?